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Call For Stronger FDA

The Food Products Association and the Grocery Manufacturers Association joined together to announce with other founders the formation of a new organization, the Coalition for a Stronger FDA. The organization explains its purpose as follows:

The Coalition for a Stronger FDA is a broad and diverse coalition calling for a renewed public commitment to the Food and Drug Administration and its unique role in protecting American consumers and patients.

The Coalition brings together patient groups, consumer advocates, public health organizations and innovative companies to work together to increase support for the FDA.

The Coalition is designed to be a multi-year effort with the following goals: (1) making sure the FDA has sufficient resources to protect patients and consumers and (2) maintaining and building public confidence and trust in the FDA.

Over a multi-year period, the Coalition plans to build public support and work productively with the executive branch and Congress. The Coalition welcomes and seeks to work in concert with the important ongoing efforts of individuals, companies, patient and consumer advocates and other groups to convince our policymakers of the importance of increasing the FDA’s entire budget, including oversight of therapeutics, foods, cosmetics and medical products.

The FDA needs increased support to continue its mission as it faces a revolutionary new era of scientific innovation and advancement. Renewed public support will enable the FDA continue to build upon its historic global position as the leading regulatory science and consumer protection agency in the world.

The new organization is backed by an eclectic group:

Patient Groups

Alliance for Aging Research —

Alzheimer’s Association —

American Heart Association —

American Liver Foundation —

Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation —

Friends of Cancer Research —

Institute for African American Health —

Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation —

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society —

Lupus Foundation of America —

National Alliance on Mental Illness —

National Kidney Foundation —

National Minority Health Month Foundation —

National Osteoporosis Foundation —

Parkinson’s Action Network —

RetireSafe —

Society for Women’s Health Research —

Consumer Groups

Center for Science in the Public Interest —

Consumer Federation of America —

Industry Groups

Animal Health Institute —

Biotechnology Industry Organization —

Food Products Association —

Grocery Manufacturers Association —

Advanced Medical Technology Association —

Consumer Health Care Products Association —

Former Government Officials

Tommy G. Thompson, HHS Secretary 2001-2005

Donna E. Shalala, HHS Secretary 1993-2001

Louis Sullivan, HHS Secretary 1989-1993

And it draws its strength from a perception that a weakening of the FDA may be contributing to food safety outbreaks and a concurrent loss of confidence in the food system. On its web site, the coalition points out that:

FDA funding has lagged behind appropriations for other public health agencies over the last two decades. For example:

  • In 1986, FDA’s budget was $416.7 million — or 97 percent of the CDC’s $429.4 million budget and 8 percent of NIH’s $5.1 billion budget.
  • In 1996, FDA’s budget was $865 million — or 39 percent of CDC’s $2.2 billion budget and 8 percent of NIH’s $10.2 billion budget.
  • In 2006, FDA’s budget was $1.5 billion — or 28 percent of CDC’s $5.2 billion budget and 5 percent of NIH’s $27.7 billion budget.

In a sense, the coalition members are on the right track. If you accept the notion that it is the FDA’s responsibility to make sure that all our food is safe, then the budget they have is ridiculously and disproportionately small for the task at hand.

The problem with this line of thinking is that even if you doubled, tripled or quadrupled FDA funding, it would still be ridiculously and disproportionately small compared to the task at hand.

After all, the FDA regulates roughly 25% of all consumer spending in the US.

If anything the spinach outbreak indicates that the FDA creates a false “comfort zone” that allows operators to compete with each other on price because the FDA has already established the legal requirements to create safe food.

If every meeting with a potential co-packer began with a discussion of how do we make this safe, big buyers would quickly insist on tougher standards than the FDA has required. As it is, big buyers are happy to let the FDA determine the standards and then look for the low-cost producer.

Big branded producers would invest in higher food safety standards but hold off because the FDA standards are the legal requirement and thus make investment in stricter standards seem superfluous. In a sense, the existence of FDA standards devalues branding.

So far there is no finding in the spinach crisis that someone has been violating FDA regulations, so no number of additional inspectors would have made a difference.

The core of the problem is not low FDA funding. The core of the problem is this: If, prior to this outbreak, Natural Selection Foods had sent a memo to all the people it co-packed for and said that to increase food safety, it was going to take a variety of steps such as testing water, testing product, etc., and that the cost of these measures meant that every bag would cost an extra quarter, do you think that its business would have increased (because clients would seek it out in pursuit of better safety) or decreased (because other vendors who met all FDA requirements could sell for a quarter less)? No question in my mind that the answer is the latter. That is the real problem.

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